Ever since Janet started menopause, her constantly shifting mood swings had been making her anxious.
One minute she was intensely angry; the next minute she felt deeply sad. Most of the time her husband tip-toed around her, afraid to say anything that could set her off. She knew he meant well, but this just irritated her even more. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of her mood swings was that Janet felt completely unable to control them.
If you’re going through menopause and can identify with Janet’s emotional roller coaster, you’re not alone. Janet’s experience is fairly typical among women going through menopause mood swings due to fluctuations in the level of estrogen in her body. Estrogen fluctuations also cause other symptoms like hot flashes, sweating in bed, difficulty sleeping, vaginal dryness, extra pounds, and forgetfulness (the so called “brain fog of menopause”). And this is only a partial list. Just experiencing some of these symptoms contributes to emotional chaos, with moods that shift from sadness to irritability to anger to anxiety. It’s really not unlike what happens to teenagers, whose raging hormones contribute to extreme mood fluctuations. (It’s ironic: just when many women are experiencing moodiness from menopause hormone fluctuations, they also have to cope with the emotional highs and lows of their teenage children!)
Research has shown there are some lifestyle changes that may help stabilize your mood swings. Here are seven diet, exercise, and other tips that could make a difference to your emotional well-being:
1. Eat a healthier diet. Nutritionists recommend that you eat more vegetables, fruit, lean protein such as fish and chicken, whole-grain products, and low-fat dairy products. (Yes, we know this is no big surprise: it’s what nutritionists recommend no matter what age you are. But now, with a slow-down in metabolism affecting your waistline, and hormones wreaking havoc on your mood and memory, it’s time to listen and take action!)
2. Serve yourself meals on smaller plates. A research paper published in 2016 in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research reported that people eat less when they serve themselves on smaller plates. This simple trick helps lower daily calories to fight the weight gain that often comes with menopause. There’s nothing like shedding a few extra pounds – or preventing the additional pounds so many women gain during menopause – to make you feel great!
3. Cut down on refined carbs. For post-menopausal women, eating a diet that’s high in refined carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, white bread, pasta, rice, sugary drinks, etc.) can not only cause weight gain, it may also trigger depression, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center. A high level of refined carbs causes sugar levels in the bloodstream to rise, which sets off a hormonal response in the body to reduce the sugar levels. This response may also cause or exacerbate mood changes, fatigue and other symptoms of depression.
4. Reduce your caffeine intake. This isn’t easy for those of us who live from one java fix to the next. However, caffeine has a direct effect on the nervous system and consuming too much of it contributes to anxiety (as well as hot flashes). Excess caffeine consumption may also interfere with healthy, restful sleeping. Experts say the best way to cut down is to do it gradually, not to go cold turkey. Caffeine isn’t just in coffee and tea, by the way. Many soft drinks have added caffeine – not just colas, but also Mountain Dew, Sunkist Orange Soda, and other popular beverages. Chocolate also has caffeine; the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine there is.
5. Increase the amount of exercise you get. Exercise not only burns calories and helps prevent the extra pounds that often accompany menopause; it also has a positive effect on mood. Harvard psychology researchers, in a 2016 paper published by the journal Cognition and Emotion, demonstrated that moderate exercise, even for a short period of time, can change emotional reactions for the better.
6. De-stress by practicing mind and body relaxation techniques. When you feel stressed, the amount of serotonin in your body decreases. Serotonin, a chemical manufactured in your brain, is necessary for your nerve cells and brain to function properly. Low levels of serotonin can have a very negative influence on mood. Meditation is an effective way to reduce stress levels. There are many types of meditation. You can try different techniques until you find one that fits well into your lifestyle and works best to reduce your stress.
7. Your gynecologist may also suggest that you take either prescription or herbal menopause relief. Many women and physicians avoid prescriptions for hormone therapy because research shows taking hormones may increase a woman’s risk for getting invasive breast cancer, heart disease, strokes and blood clots. However, data shows the use of Relizen, a non-hormonal herbal menopause treatment, significantly improved menopausal mood swings compared to start of treatment.
A final suggestion is to get support from others – don’t suffer in silence. Confide in a close female friend who’s experiencing symptoms of menopause herself, or look for an online menopause chat group. In these chat groups, women can ask questions, get advice, and simply share their feelings. However, if menopause mood swings are really bringing you down, you may benefit from talking to a psychotherapist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.